THE Strongest Weapon in Fighting Ignorance

All notes below are taken from Jim Trelease’s The Read Aloud Handbook. This book has been my educational bible for the past twenty years. After choosing to write my senior thesis in college on the benefits of reading aloud to a child, I found this book and never let go. It was love at first page. Obviously, I would encourage you to read this book in its entirety. However, If you simply can’t for some reason I will share what I found to be most poignant. Before I begin sharing his thoughts, let me share mine. The reason I have found my way back to this book today is because I am seeing one of my own children fall prey to a school culture that has left more to be desired in this teacher/mama’s heart.  Instead of raising up a generation of creative thinkers, dreamers, readers, those who question and consider things from multiple angles, we are mass producing some really great test takers. They don’t call them standards for nothing. We are creating standard students… standard thinkers… standard doers. Do we really want the next generation to be standard? How about exceptional? I think I’d prefer exceptional. How can we have an exceptional new generation of thinkers and doers if we aren’t providing every opportunity we can to motivate a child to become an independent reader? We need kids who grow to be adults who seek to find. And in my opinion, the best way to ensure this is to cultivate a culture of independent readers. Readers who not only can seek to find answers for themselves, but who also seek to find pleasure from reading beautiful works of art.

From The Read Aloud Handbook –

  • Extensive research has proven that reading aloud to a child is the single most important factor in raising a reader… more effective than worksheets or any other method of reading instruction.
  • What we teach children to love and desire will always outweigh what we teach them to do.
  • Reading is the heart of education. The knowledge of almost every subject in school flows from reading. One must first be able to read the word problem in math in order to understand it. If you cannot read the science or social studies chapter, you cannot answer the questions at the end of the chapter. One can arguably state: Reading is the single most important social factor in American life today and this is why: the more you read the more you know, the more you know the smarter you grow, the smarter you are the longer you stay in school, the longer you stay in school the more diplomas you earn, the more diplomas you earn the more days you are employed.
  • Why are our children failing and dropping out of school? Because they cannot read. Change the graduation rate and you change the prison population, which changes the entire climate of America. Common sense should tell us that reading is the ultimate weapon – destroying ignorance, poverty, and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn’t read much doesn’t know much. And a nation that doesn’t know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth
  • Our objective is to create lifetime readers – graduates who continue to read and educate themselves throughout their adult lives. But the reality is we’ve created schooltime readers – graduates who know how to read well enough to graduate. And by that point the majority take a silent vow: If I never read another book, it’ll be too soon.
  • Thirty percent of the nation’s largest companies are collectively paying $25 billion a year teaching remedial math and reading to entry level employees.
  • We’ve taught children how to read but forgotten to teach them to want to read.
  • If a nation doesn’t read much, it doesn’t know much. An ignorant but entertained populace is especially dangerous in a democracy, where the ignorant majority can outvote the educated minority
  • We read to children for all the same reasons you talk with children: to reassure, to entertain, to inform, to arouse curiosity, to inspire. But in reading aloud, you also: condition the child to associate reading with pleasure, create background knowledge, and provide a reading role model.
  • The less we know about a subject, the slower we read, and the less we understand. That is one reason why children who read the most are the most well-rounded students in the classroom. They bring the largest amount of background knowledge to the table and thus understand more what the teacher and textbook is teaching.
  • Literature is considered such an important medium because – more than television, more than films, more than art – literature brings us closest to the human heart. And of the two forms of literature (fiction and nonfiction), the one that brings us closest and presents the meaning of life most clearly to the child is fiction.  What is it about fiction that brings it so close to the human heart? We like it. There is conflict in it and conflict is at the center of life. Conflict wakes us up from the tedium of everyday life. It allows us to vent our emotions with tears, laughter, love, and hate.  We hope its story will give us a clue to our own life story. It releases us from life’s pressures by allowing us to escape into other people’s lives.
  • When you consider the broad areas stimulated by reading aloud, one can only wonder why it is not done in all classrooms. It exposes the student to: a positive reading role model, new information, the pleasures of reading, rich vocabulary, good grammar, a broader variety of books than one would choose on their own, richly textured lives outside our own experience, the English language spoken in a manner distinctly different from television. At the same time, the child’s imagination is stimulated, attention span stretched, listening comprehension improved, emotional development nurtured, the reading-writing connection established, negative attitudes reshaped into positive ones. Outside of all that, reading aloud doesn’t do much.
  • Not to be overlooked: Students from classrooms where there were more book discussions tended to score higher in national reading assessments.
  • Great things so often begin not with a mass movement but with one dedicated individual who dares to stand and lead. The best start for the ones who will stand and lead is to be read to.
  • When you combine the power of the heart with the power of a book, you’ve got something very powerful.
  • Children are the living messages we send to a time we will never see. What messages do we want to give them? What stories will mark their paths?
  • Among the prime purposes of reading aloud is to motivate the child to read independently for pleasure.
  • Instead of educating the I.Q., we need to educate the H.Q., the heart quotient, the matters of truth, love, justice, and compassion. There are two ways to do this. One is through real life experiences and the other is through literature. Literature has the power to take us outside ourselves and returns to ourselves a changed self.
  • Each day millions of children arrive in American classrooms in search of more than skills. They are looking for a light in the darkness, a Good Samaritan who will stop and bandage their hearts.
  • Imagine what our culture would be like if Americans sold ideas, words, and books with the same creativity we use to sell designer jeans, shampoo, and rock stars. Why, we might end up with people whose attention span for the printed word is longer than the time it takes to read a T-shirt.
  • Skill sheets, workbooks, basal readers, flash cards are not enough. To convey meaning you need someone sharing the meaning and flavor of real stories.
  • You became a reader because you saw and heard someone you admired enjoying the experience.  Someone led you to the world of books even before you could read, let you taste the magic of stories, took you to the library, and allowed you to stay up later at night to read in bed.

If you are still here…kudos to you! Thanks for reading.  Now, turn off your phone or close the computer and go find a book. Take that book outside if it’s a lovely day and read it (maybe even to someone who is with you). If it’s not so pleasant outdoors today, go find a comfy sofa or chair, grab a cup of coffee or tea and a nice fluffy blanket. Sink into another world for a moment. You deserve it. Until next time…

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